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Mandatory masking required at Upstate Medical Hospitals amid COVID uptick

Madison Ruffo
WRVO Public Media

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Upstate University Hospital and Upstate Community Hospital are reinstating a mask mandate. The hospital policies will also require universal COVID testing for all patients admitted to the hospital.

Dr. Stephen Thomas, Upstate's director of global health, said the EG.5 variant, within the Omicron family, is responsible for the increase in cases as it may be more infectious and likely to evade immunities from previous infections or vaccinations. He also notes people haven't been taking the same precautions as they have before.

"The wastewater data definitely shows that there is an uptick in the number of people who are infected," Thomas said. "There's been a more than a 10% uptick in the number of hospitalizations nationally. Fortunately, we have not seen a huge uptick in deaths."

Thomas said the data doesn't show whether this new variant is more or less severe than previous variants.

"One kind of generalization that people are making right now is that it does not seem to be more fatal than anything we've seen before," Thomas said. "It does not seem to hospitalize people like previous variants have, like Delta, for example, the hospitalizations that we are seeing and the upticks and deaths that we are seeing are still in those most vulnerable populations."

But he said vaccination is the best way to protect yourself. A new COVID vaccine is expected to be due out next month which uses the XBB.1.5 subvariant of Omicron.

"We've looked at mismatch in the past and there still is benefit from vaccination," Thomas said. "The good news about this is, EG.5 is still in the Omicron family — it's like a cousin of XBB.1.5. I think that there is still going to be considerable benefit from getting vaccinated with this new formulation"

Upstate's COVID policies will be reviewed in three weeks.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.